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Tens of thousands protest at U.N. office in Kashmir

SRINAGAR (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Muslims marched peacefully past the United Nations office in Kashmir on Monday, calling on the international body to intervene over the disputed Himalayan region.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq (wearing a cap), chairman of a moderate faction of Kashmir's All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, addresses a march in Pampore on the outskirts of Srinagar August 16, 2008. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli

Demonstrators shouting “Oh tyrants and oppressors leave our Kashmir” marched to police barricades within a few hundred metres of the U.N. Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) office in Srinagar.

The organisers, Kashmir’s main separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference alliance, handed over a petition against Indian rule.

A row over land allocated to Hindu pilgrims visiting a shrine in Kashmir has snowballed into full scale anti-India protests, uniting separatists and reviving calls for Kashmiri independence.

Marches last week led to police killing at least 22 Muslim demonstrators, including a senior separatist leader, inflaming passions in one of the biggest separatist protests since a revolt against Indian rule broke out in 1989.

UNMOGIP, one of the oldest U.N. missions, monitors a 1949 ceasefire line dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

People in cars, buses, and motorcycles, some of them carrying banners which read “Indian forces go back” streamed through Srinagar as troops kept their distance.

“This is a march for freedom, and God willing, Indian occupation will end soon,” Fayaz Ahmad Dar, a shopkeeper said.

Protests have also raised tensions between India and Pakistan who claim the region in full but rule in parts.

New Delhi has criticised Islamabad for interfering in its internal affairs by calling for U.N. intervention in the region.

The crisis began after the state government promised to give forest land to a trust that runs Amarnath, a cave shrine visited by Hindu pilgrims. Many Muslims were enraged.

The government then rescinded its decision, which in turn angered Hindus in Jammu who attacked trucks carrying supplies to the Kashmir valley and often blocked the region’s highway, the only surface link with the rest of India.

In the region’s Hindu-dominated Jammu region, thousands of Hindu protesters courted arrest on Monday to protest against what they called a delay in handing over land to Hindu pilgrims.

In Kashmir, more than 43,000 people have been killed in violence, involving Indian troops and Muslim militants, since 1989.

Human rights groups put the toll at about 60,000 dead or missing.

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